Sunday, December 22, 2013

Smiles in a Tiny Cookie by Patty Blount

This month, we’re blogging about celebrations. Appropriate, right?

I think so, too. That’s because this year, I’ve learned to celebrate the things worth celebrating instead of the ones that are not.

It began at my mom’s memorial service, last spring. For the past 26 years, I’ve been baking rainbow cookies every Christmas, those Italian green, yellow and red layered ones? After she passed, my sister and I decided to serve her favorite foods at the memorial service so I made rainbow cookies because she always used to tell me how much she loved the way I made these cookies.

The recipe was hers. I baked my first batch when I was twenty-one years old. And every year, she would say my cookies were so much better than hers. They were lighter, moister, stayed fresh longer. She’d grill me on the steps I followed and every year, I assured her I was following her recipe exactly as written.

Then, one year, she watched me make them and noticed I used almond filling instead of almond paste.

Oops.

We had quite a laugh over this. I continued making the cookies my way and she made them her way. This perplexed me since she’d always said she liked my version better. I attempted making them with almond paste once but burned the batch so never tried again. So here we are, at the memorial service and my sister dropped this bomb:

“Mom  never really liked your cookies. She just said that.”

To say I was stunned would be the understatement of my lifetime. This recipe mistake began when I was twenty-one years old. I’m in my mid-forties now, so had I been deluded for over half my life? The impact this remark had on me was profound – I know this sounds ridiculous, but it was worse than learning she’d died. I’d expected that. She was in hospice care; we knew her end was near. But this? This was a blow as sure and as deep as any wound.

I cried great volumes of tears over this revelation. And I vowed I’d never bake those cookies again. And so, Christmas last year was empty, devoid of any meaning because I’d not only lost my mother, I’d lost the warm fuzzy feelings so many of our shared memories once held. I don’t pretend to know my sister’s reason for sharing this news and to her credit, she did try to backpedal and assure me Mom still loved my recipe version but the damage was done.

How can you unhear something like this? Or unknow it?

It sent me into a tailspin. I didn’t go to church, I didn’t decorate the house, I didn’t bake, and I didn’t acknowledge Mom's birthday. I obsessed – how many other memories are tainted because she lied to me? How many other things did I fail at?

My attitude adjustment came from the most unlikely of sources – my son, Rob. Rob assured me he loves my cookies and even cajoled me into baking him a batch on Christmas Eve. Then he reminded me of all the requests for that recipe that I’ve received over the years. I’ve brought them to parties, mailed them to Twitter friends, and even brought a batch to a book signing once. He pointed something out that now seems so obvious, I’m ashamed to tell you I never considered it. He said, “If all those people were just humoring you, they wouldn’t keep asking you to make the cookies. They’d try one and never mention them again. Why can’t you count the smiles instead of the tears?”

Is there anything more gratifying than a wise child who can counsel his not-so-wise Mom?

I made him the cookies. And I made them several more times throughout the year – even mailed a batch to one of my favorite writers, who’s a big fan. I’m not ‘over’ the hurt my sister’s comment caused – I don’t know that I ever can be. But with my son’s wise words, I’ve learned to stop dwelling on the tears and look for the smiles. I hadn’t noticed how much my own little family connects those cookies to Christmas time, or how they’ve brightened someone’s celebration. So here’s my recipe for Italian Rainbow Cookies. I hope you’ll bake them and add to my smile collection.

Note: You may find baking with waxed paper triggers your smoke alarm.

Ingredients:

4        large or medium eggs, separated
1        can of Solo Almond Filling (Note: Other recipes call for Almond Paste, but I have found the secret to success is using almond FILLING.)
1½ cups (3 sticks) of butter, softened in microwave
1        cup sugar
2        cups all purpose flour
¼   teaspoon salt
Green and red food coloring
1        jar of apricot or raspberry preserves
2        ounces of semi-sweet chocolate (either squares or chips) for glaze, or use preserves
1 ounce of cream or Crisco to soften the chocolate


1        Grease three 13 x 9 x 2 inch pans; line each pan with wax paper and then grease the paper. Hint: Let wax paper over-hang short edges of pan to use as ‘handles’ when removing baked layers. Set out three sheets of wax paper on heat-proof surface to receive baked layers when removed from pans.

2        Beat egg whites with electric mixer in small bowl until stiff peaks form. Set aside.

3        Break up almond filling with a fork. Add butter, sugar, egg yolks. Beat with electric mixer at high speed until fluffy. Beat in flour a little at a time and salt until blended.

4        Fold beaten egg whites into mixture with wire whip.

5        It helps to tint one batch at a time. Remove about a cup and a half of batter; spread evenly into one of prepared pans. This will be your yellow layer. Use a spoon to force batter to coat bottom of pan and reach the edges. If you find there just isn’t enough, remove a scant spoonful at a time from the bowl and add to the pan until the pan is covered.  Use another bowl to divide the remaining batter in half; tint one half green and LEAVE THE REMAINING HALF YELLOW UNTIL NEXT STEP. Spread the green batter in the second prepared pan. You may add a spoonful of untinted batter, mixing carefully in the pan, until the pan is completely covered. Finally, tint the remaining batter red; spread into last prepared pan.
6        Bake in moderate oven (350º) about 15 minutes until edges are lightly brown. Center should not be sticky or shiny. Note: layers will be very thin; less than a quarter inch.
7        Immediately upon removing pans from oven, invert each layer onto the waxed paper you laid out in Step 1. Peel off the baking liner paper carefully, trying not to tear layers. Cool completely.
8        Heat preserves; strain. Use the waxed paper to carefully lift the green layer onto a jelly roll pan or other flat pan that will fit into a refrigerator. Spread a thin layer of preserves onto green layer; spread to all edges. You may remove any remaining lumps, if desired.

Use the waxed paper to carefully lift, align and flip yellow layer on top of preserves-topped green layer. If you do not align edges properly, CAREFULLY try to slide layer into place without tearing. Spread another layer of preserves on top of the yellow layer; spread to all edges.

Use the waxed paper to carefully lift, align and flip the red layer on top of the yellow layer.

9        Cover tightly with plastic wrap; weight with large book (phone book or textbook) and refrigerate over night to encourage the layers to adhere.

10    Next day: Melt chocolate in microwave until smooth. Add cream or Crisco to keep the chocolate from re-hardening. Spread chocolate over top of assembled cake. Smooth to all edges. Let set in refrigerator, about 30 minutes. Optional: Top with ice cream sprinkles or nuts.

11    Trim the rough edges from cake and discard. Cut trimmed cake into 1 x 1 inch squares with a very sharp, non-serrated knife. (Serrated knives ‘saw’ the cake, grinding the fragile layers.) It helps to cut a length off the cake and flip it on its side to slice into squares so the chocolate layer is not ruined.


12    Enjoy! 


8 comments:

  1. I'm with your son. I think people love your cookies : )
    Also, thank you for sharing the recipe.

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  2. I made one batch so far this season and the scraps I trim off the finished cake are already gone. I had to hide the cut up squares, so I think you're right, Jody!

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  3. What amazing insight your son has. Thanks for sharing this story, and the recipe!

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  4. You raised a smart and thoughtful boy. If I were to take a guess--I would say that you should see your mom's "lie" as love rather than deception. I bet that as a creature of habit, she did like hers "better" but she loved YOU more than she loved cookies. <3

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  5. What a great kid! I'm so glad you shared this recipe. My BIL is a huge fan of rainbow cookies, and if I can make them, that will be very cool!! Hugs!

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  6. Wise kid. And yummy sounding cookies. Plus Solo Almond Filling really is yummy!

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